With July fading fast and the opening of squirrel season coming on soon
(Aug. 15), it is time for some hunt-like scouting.
Boiled down, that means getting in the woods to determine what forms
of Mother Nature's annual smorgasbord already is being used by squirrels
for food, and what forms will be utilized two weeks from now.
If you are not familiar with the wooded area you will be hunting, it
is a time for locating trees squirrels will be most likely to feed on,
and best paths to take to approach them stealthily. Squirrel hunting is,
by the way, a matter of finding the squirrel, and getting in a position
to shoot, before the quarry knows you are about.
If you are familiar with the woods you will be hunting, you probably
know the location of trees squirrels feed on. But even if you are familiar
with the trees of a wooded area, the pattern of mast development changes
from one year to the next, especially among the oaks and beech. Hickory,
black walnut and such whirligig seed producers as ash and maple are pretty
constant from one year to another, but it is wise to check even these species.
Actually, squirrels are not apt to be feeding on the oaks and beech
when the season opens (these forms of mast tend to mature a little later).
However, if the old favorite hickory nut is not available, squirrels will
start sampling late developing forms of mast earlier in the season.
Although a lot of the field corn was planted late this year, corn already
is tasseling now and could be an important food factor for squirrels from
the time the season opens into the fall and winter. During dry spells,
squirrels may cut either undeveloped ears of corn or even the stalks for
Pre-season scouting can be an excellent opportunity to practice stalking,
too. One of the first things my dad taught me about woodland stalking (especially
for squirrels when one must walk through tinder-dry leaves and twigs that
sound like a cannon when they snap), is to walk from heel-to-toe rather
than placing the entire food down when one takes a step.
When my dad had to negotiate such spots on the forest floor, he would
carefully and slowly place the heel of his foot that was advancing until
he gained stability, then slowly plant the remainder of the foot. If he
felt sticks that he thought might snap if he put all of his weight on them,
he would withdraw the foot and start his step over again.
This often requires patience--I have seen him take the better part of
half an hour to move 10 or 15 feet. But it works.
As a kid, I secretly questioned my mentors' ideas on the practice of
taking so much time to get into a position to shoot. I tended to think
it would be better to forge on through--noise or no noise--to get a shot.
Then go looking for other squirrels.
Jack Cain, my quail and bird-hunting professor at Hoosier Outdoor U.,
convinced me that "stealth is wealth" when squirrel hunting with his "bird-in-the
"Get a good shot before you shoot," Jack said, "and make your shots
count." When I hunted with Jack, I knew how many squirrels he had by counting
his shots--even if I could not see him.
Aside from the fact that a damp--even wet--forest floor makes stalking
squirrels easier, Mr. Bushytail is activated by summer showers. This is
not difficult to understand--the freshness of a woodland after a rain tells
A Tip On Shooting--If
you are finding that it is becoming more difficult to hold your rifle steady
enough for hunting, you may want to use a strong stick and a little geometry.
You don't use the stick physically for bagging game, but if used as
one side of a triangle a strong stick roughly the length of your rifle
can help you steady up.
If you shoot from the right shoulder (right-eyed), place the butt end
of the stick on your left shoulder and allow the smaller end of the stick
to rest in your open left hand which also will hold the forearm of your
With the forearm of your rifle resting atop the stick (both grasped
firmly with the left hand), put downward pressure on the stick and forearm
of the rifle with the left hand and arm. This will help you eliminate movement
of the rifle's muzzle.
The imaginary line of your shoulders form the base of a triangle and
your rifle and the stick constitute the sides.You can fashion the triangle
as isosceles, right, or anything close to those geometric figures, and
your accuracy will improve. If it doesn't, I will refund the cost of the
stick that you pick up in the woods.
I find it better than a hefty shooting staff, not to mention less expensive.
A sturdy tree is even better.
It may be psychological, but the triangle has been working for me for
many years--since, as a boy, I wanted to shoot a squirrel while standing
waist deep in the Muscatatuck River, but could not see a place to deposit
my fishing rod while I changed from bass fisherman to squirrel hunter.
The process is simply reversed for left-shoulder, left-eyed shooters.